Facebook upholds Trump ban but will reassess decision over coming months

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, U.S. February 28, 2021.
Joe Skipper | Reuters

Facebook’s independent Oversight Board ruled to uphold the company’s January decision to suspend the Facebook and Instagram accounts of former President Donald Trump.

But, the board said, the indefinite timeframe of the suspension “was not appropriate.” The board effectively punted the decision back to Facebook, saying it “insists” the company “review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform.”

The board asked that Facebook complete the review within six months and made suggestions for how to create clear policies that balance public safety and freedom of expression.

The decision will ensure Trump remains blocked from posting or having a presence on the social media company’s services for now, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg committed to following the board’s recommendation, though Facebook is not bound to do so.

Facebook first suspended Trump’s accounts following the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. The suspension was Facebook’s most aggressive action against Trump during his four-year term.

“We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post on his Facebook page at the time. 

Facebook referred the decision to its Oversight Board a few weeks later, saying that given the significance of the decision, “we think it is important for the board to review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld.”

The decision to uphold Trump’s suspension is the most significant action taken thus far by Facebook’s Oversight Board, which was launched in October 2020 as a de facto “Supreme Court” for the company’s content moderation decisions. The board is an independent body made up of civic, technological, free speech, journalism and human rights experts from around the world.

Facebook has agreed to abide by the Oversight Board’s rulings, even though Zuckerberg still has undisputed control of the company, with majority voting control over the company’s shares.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

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